Burning the bridge at Lick Creek In November 1861, a talented potter [one who makes pottery by hand] named Christopher Alexander Haun—most often called ‘Alex’—lives in a part of Greene County known as Pottertown, a Unionist enclave in the Confederate State of Tennessee. Several other potters have their homes there as well, and they all use excellent clay found near Lick Creek to make their wares. These are rural potters who run businesses selling their clay creations, often as a supplement to farming. Their finely crafted earthenware is still highly prized today. Alex Haun and the other potters staunchly support the Union.
7 NOVEMBER 1861 On the eve of the bridge burning, Jacob Harmon, also a local potter, visits his Unionist neighbors and asks for their help in burning the bridge. When Harmon knocks at Alex Haun’s door, he agrees to assist in burning the Lick Creek bridge the following night.
8 NOVEMBER 1861 On 8 November 1861, forty to sixty men, including Alex Haun, arrive at Jacob Harmon’s home and are immediately sworn into Company F of the Second Tennessee Voluntary Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army. They then travel to the edge of Harmon’s farm, where the railroad bridge crosses Lick Creek.
The Unionists find several Confederate soldiers camping under the bridge and immediately take them into custody. The burners make quick work of firing the bridge, while others bridge burners force the guards to swear an oath to the Union and promise not to tell what they have witnessed that night, then releases them. They do not keep their word.
9 NOVEMBER 1861 Confederate authorities are livid at this guerrilla action from the Unionists of Northeast Tennessee, and they quickly strike back. Within hours of the bridge burning, the Rebels capture several bridge burners, including Alex Haun, aged 40, Jacob Harmon, 43, and his son Henry Harmon, 22, and throw them into the jail at Knoxville.
10 DECEMBER 1861 A Confederate court-martial at Knoxville finds Haun guilty of treason for participating in the burning of the Lick Creek Bridge. From the jail, Alex Haun corresponds with his wife, Elizabeth Cobble Haun, trying desperately to prepare her for life without him and how to support herself and their children.
11 DECEMBER 1861 Alex Haun’s sentence is death. By hanging. On the day of his execution, he writes again to his wife. His thoughts are with her and their children, whom he knows he will never see again.
Haun then writes to Colonel Baxter, an officer at the Knoxville jail:
And again to Elizabeth:
11 DECEMBER 1861: Execution of a bridge burner in Knoxville One of the bridge-burners, convicted by the Court Marshal (sic), now in session here, will be hung today near Camp Sneed, on the railroad, just west of the Marble Works. Considerable curiosity was manifested by the public yesterday at the sight of the gallows which was being erected. A number of people visited the place in the afternoon, under the impression that the execution would take place yesterday. ~ Knoxville Register.
11 DECEMBER 1861: Executed by hanging at 12 o’clock to-day Hon. J. P. BENJAMIN, Secretary of War, Richmond, Va. SIR: In pursuance of your instructions by telegraph of yesterday the sentence of death pronounced by court-martial upon [C. A.] Alex Haun, the bridge-burner, was executed by hanging at 12 o’clock to-day. The court-martial is still in session engaged in the trial of a number of others charged with complicity in the same crime. I am not advised of the nature or extent of the proof that can be brought against them but should it be sufficient and the court find them guilty the sentence whatever it may be will be promptly executed unless otherwise directed by you. WM. H. CARROLL, Brigadier-General.
Alex Haun leaves a pregnant wife and four young children.
Confederate Diarist of Northeast Tennessee Eliza Rhea Anderson was born 1 August 1816 at Blountville, Northeast Tennessee. Her father died when she was still a toddler. After losing financial support with the death of their husbands, women of the antebellum era moved in with their closest male relative. Mrs. Anderson’s lived with her brother for many years.
Eliza Rhea Anderson Fain’s diary published in 2004, edited by a distant relative, John N. Fain
In 1832, Eliza’s mother marries Nicholas Fain, a merchant, banker, and president of the Rogersville and Jefferson Railroad. On 17 December 1833, sixteen-year-old Eliza marries Nicholas Fain’s son and her step-brother, Richard Gammon Fain. Richard owns a two-hundred-acre farm east of Rogersville, Hawkins County, Northeast Tennessee, where Eliza raises chickens [probably] and thirteen children!
Eliza Rhea Anderson Fain is not the mistress of a large plantation. She is of the wealthy class, but not nearly as rich as a plantation mistress. Her hometown of Rogersville is in the valley of Crockett Creek, a southwest-flowing tributary of the Holston River—not an ideal place for a plantation.
American Civil War As the Civil War approaches, sentiments in Rogersville is divided between the North and the South. Many of its citizens are Unionists who support the twenty-six East Tennessee counties whose leaders tried to secede from the state of Tennessee and remain in the United States of America. The Tennessee General Assembly denied their request.
The Fains strongly support secession and slavery. They own eight slaves when the Civil War begins; four are under the age of twelve. Eliza’s views of slavery are sometimes offensive, and I will not be sharing those entries with you. Some of her religious expressions are also a bit much. However, hers is the only diary I know of that chronicles life in Northeast Tennessee so well.
Eliza Rhea Anderson Fain keeps an excellent diary from the age of 19 until her death at age 75—from shortly after her marriage to Richard Gammon Fain in 1833 until her death in 1892. During the Civil War years, she records her daily activities and the impact the war has on her home and family—as it unfolds in and around Rogersville and the Fain farm two miles away. Confederate troops occupy Rogersville for most of the war, but Union forces occasionally take control as the conflict progresses.
Eliza’s Diary January—May 1861
Monday, 14 January 1861 I have been reading tonight from the New York Observer, the Sentinel of the Country. All as yet seems to be hostile with no concession on the part of the North and no giving way in the South.
Thursday morning, 24 January 1861 Gloomy this morning with a mist falling. Yesterday quite a cold day and sleeting the greater part of the day. I at home so happy with the loved of this precious place. Our political world still wears the aspect of hostility and want of love and patriotism. … We as a people of the South have shown to the North the most unmistakable evidences of love and forbearance. What have we not done to conciliate and now the blow has been struck which forever seals our destiny in the election of a sectional President who takes into his hands the reins of our Federal government. He will appoint a cabinet of his own selection which the South cannot approve of. …
I love my country, I love her constitution. I love everything connected with her whole history, but the disposition I see in one portion of her to usurp entire control. I cannot find it in my heart to say I submit. … Treat us as brethren or let us go so that we may treat each other as brethren of the same parentage.
4 March 1861 Today is the inauguration of President Lincoln. The struggle has come …
16 April 1861 Days are dark in the extreme in the history of our country. All overtures of peace from the South have been rejected. … Fort Sumter was attacked by the Confederate troops under the command of G. Beauregard on Friday morning at 4. Gen. Anderson it is said has surrendered.
18 April 1861 Never before in our country’s history have we been called to witness such dark foreboding hours. … Fort Sumter has been taken without any serious loss of life. … On Friday morning 4 o’clock Ft. Sumter was attacked—surrendered on Saturday at 1. … The horrors of battlefield scenes has been deeply impressed in my mind during the last 10 days. … The South have sued for peace upon all terms; consistent with the maintenance of her dignity of character; as a part of a free self governed people; how has she been treated – with duplicity, intrigues and cunning which her high toned peace loving men were not able to detect. Now what alternative has she left? Nothing but to defend herself …
29 April 1861 Peace is still a stranger in our beautiful land. Of all places of the earth none seems to have been so lavishly decorated as our own fair, yea fairest Republic but I fear the desolating hand of civil war.
12 May 1861 I have bid my sons farewell a few minutes since. I do feel I have given my sons [?] not to make war upon an enemy but to act in self defense to resist the invasion of a foe to civil liberty … The name traitor rebel, and other odious epithets are heaped upon us and for what—because we have dared to resist an oppression threatening the extinction of the whole Southern population. …
Eliza Rhea Anderson Fain’s sons Nicholas “Nick” Fain (1840-1900) Samuel A. “Sam” Fain (1842-1874) and her nephew Samuel “Sam” Rhea Gammon join the 19th Tennessee Infantry Regiment CSA in May 1861. They receive training at Knoxville and serve in a unit called the “Hawkins County Boys.”
18 May 1861 Yesterday morning I bid my beloved husband [Richard Gammon Fain] farewell. How hard to part from those so dear at all times, but how peculiarly trying at this time, when everything in our political world wears an aspect of such gloom and darkness. … My dear loved one has gone to act as Commissary General for Tennessee troops. … I feel much worn down, have been passing through scenes of such excitement for several days … My garden and other domestic cares press heavily. Had my sheep sheared yesterday—today in my garden.
MINI BIO: Richard Gammon Fain Before the American Civil War, Richard Gammon Fain (1811-1878), husband of Eliza Rhea Anderson Fain, was a merchant and bank officer in Rogersville and president of the Rogersville and Jefferson Railroad. He also served in several civic positions, including postmaster of Rogersville for several years in the 1840s.
An 1832 graduate of West Point, Richard accepts the rank of major in the Confederate Army. He serves as Commissary General for the Provisional Army of Tennessee in Knoxville from 14 October 1861 until June 1862. After the Provisional Army of Tennessee is absorbed into the Confederate Army, Fain becomes Assistant Commissary of Subsistence on the staff of General Felix K. Zollicoffer, still in Knoxville.
In June 1862, Fain is assigned to organize the CSA 63rdTennessee Infantry Regiment, with himself as colonel. The Fain boys, who were old enough to serve in the Confederate Army, eventually joined their father’s regiment.
Because of ill health, Richard Fain writes his letter of resignation from the Confederate Army from Missionary Ridge while serving with the Army of Tennessee in the Chattanooga Campaign. The letter, now in the National Archives, includes a statement from an army surgeon about Richard’s health:
“I certify that I have carefully examined Col. R. G. Fain, 63rd Tennessee Regiment, and find him unable to perform the duties of the office because of chronic disease of the liver and peculiar irritability of the system which prostrates him on the least exposure. I therefore recommend his discharge from service.”
As you will see in her diary entries, Eliza is very unhappy with Richard leaving his army post. She does not take his health issues too seriously. She is mortified when he takes the oath of allegiance to the United States and applies for a pardon, which President Andrew Johnson grants in October 1865. Eliza wonders why “a God of truth, of love, should permit such a people to overcome us.”
Richard Gammon Fain dies on 11 September 1878 at Mossy Creek (Jefferson County, Tennessee) and is buried in the cemetery at Rogersville Presbyterian Church.
Eliza’s diary June 1861
2 June 1861, Sabbath Darkness, darkness, all is dark as yet so far as our difficulties with each other are concerned. The troops from the North are still advancing. Troops are moving in from the South to meet and repel this attack … My soul is troubled to its greatest depth. My husband, my sons are gone. The sacredness of the home circle has been invaded—perhaps never again to be as it has been.
On last Friday morning before day I was awakened from my sleep with a feeling of indescribable grief. I rose early, my purpose fixed to write to a friend who was throwing his influence on the side of the North. I sat down and addressed to him a few lines which I do trust may lead him to think …
6 June 1861 Troubles are still thickening around us. This evening received from my loved husband the lengthiest letter I have yet received dated 4 June. I have been thinking all day of the pleasures I should feel in welcoming him home but his letter has rather driven the hope from me. They are expecting orders every day to march to Virginia.
I received this evening a printed letter from the editor of the Mothers Magazine soliciting so earnestly for remittance from his southern patrons saying he has never felt like taking sides against the South, has ever felt they knew better how to manage their affairs than they of the North could do it for us. …
16 June 1861 At home sweet home although so sadly broken up. My helpless little darling daughters lying around me on the floor giving vent to the girlish impulses of t he heart not knowing or comprehending the deep sources of grief which disturbs my peace on this calm, beautiful Sabbath morning. My husband has been permitted to revisit his home. … He came Saturday the 8th and remained until Tuesday morning the 11th a 6:00 o’clock when I set out with him to Knoxville. We arrived at Knoxville around 11 having had a comfortable ride.
Put up at Lamar House and after dinner went out in omnibus to fairgrounds to visit my dear, darling boys [her sons]. Never will I forget the feeling I had when I came in sight of and entered the gates leading to tents. I had often imagined to myself the look of the tented field but never until that day had any realization of its appearance and never, while I live, can I forget the expression of gladness beaming from the sunburnt face of that band of noble volunteers. … I feel there are many connected with nineteenth regiment East Tennessee who are good young men. … My heart rises in gratitude and love to God for giving to Southern homes husbands, sons, and brothers who go forth so cheerfully, so nobly for the maintenance of civil and religious freedom. …
Eliza’s diary July 1861
10 July 1861 Had a letter from Nick [her son, Nicholas Fain] yesterday. He says Capt. Heiskell did not seem displeased with him for staying over his time—spoke jokingly of putting him on extra duty. He went back 1st of July, Monday. They are not encamped on Cumberland Mountain. As they stand sentinel upon the fastness of the mountain may their thoughts be turned by thy Holy Spirit … My dear Sam [son Samuel A. Fain] seems to have forgotten he has ever known a mother’s love or a mother’s care.
Eliza is fortunate that her husband and sons are stationed nearby in Knoxville, which allows all of them to visit back and forth.
11 July 1861 On the 2nd of this month—Tuesday night—I saw for the first time the comet … which appeared during the reign of Charles the fifth and caused the abdication of throne by him. I was so struck by the grandeur and beauty of the sight—was walking through my yard listening for the return of Powell [son George Powell Fain] and Gus [son John Lynn Fain] when my attention was directed towards the heavens and what a beautiful sight struck my view. …
23 July 1861 I have said farewell again this morning to my best, my dearest earthly friend. my loved Richard [her husband Richard Gammon Fain] more precious than any other living being on earth. Heart doubly sad this morning—husband gone—hours of darkness rapidly approaching. The news from Virginia calculated to elate the heart in one point of view but in another to make it feel so sick of the wickedness of man. The news was received yesterday of a great battle [First Bull Run] between the Southern and Northern troops. …
The dark and lowering clouds of civil discord seem to threaten the destruction of our loved East Tennessee. A man came to brother Hiram [Eliza’s brother-in-law, who also kept a Civil War diary] Sunday night saying a difficulty was likely to occur at Sneedville—that the Union men were or had taken H. Roses’s company of volunteers prisoner. …
There are errors in Eliza’s diary, particularly when it comes to news of the war. Not only does information travel slowly through the mountains, but the inaccuracies are often outrageous, causing Eliza to worry over information that is totally false or highly adulterated. News of the First Battle of Bull Run, fought on July 21, didn’t reach her until July 23, and she believed the battle was still being fought on the 23rd. It’s like the game where people whisper a certain message to each other, and by the time it reaches the last person, the entire meaning has changed.
28 July 1861 My Sabbaths are days now of such intense feeling and I cannot keep from asking questions concerning the well being of those who have left all in our Southern homes to go forth for what I feel is civil and religious liberty. This morning brother George got back from Knoxville having gone down on Wednesday to make some arrangements about their company. … on that day he travelled with some who were going back from Virginia who had been spectators of the deadly conflict this day week [a week ago today] (21st) ever memorable to one who was on that train with the remains of a darling son who had fallen to rise no more … I asked George if he thought his father seemed much distressed He said he seemed so much elated at the success of our armies [in the First Battle of Bull Run—a Confederate victory] he did not seem to feel the death of his child much. I have always felt to the truly patriotic heart there is no cause where we could lose our sons which would carry with it an alleviation of sorrow so much as the thought of Liberty, Liberty.
Eliza’s Diary Autumn 1861
Sabbath, 18 August 1861 I do so feel this morning crushed at the thought of the great desecration of my holy day. … O the baneful influences of military life over the soul. It is this I dread more than all things else. I dread that the hearts of my sons will be estranged for all that is good. Sam is home today but cannot remain long in one place … seems to be so reckless.
The scenes of the 21st fighting [First Battle of Bull Run] are vividly impressed upon the minds who now travel upon our trains. Fain has again been down the country, saw on the trains several wounded. One who had both hands taken off. O how many how many poor soldiers have been crippled for life, how deplorable the results of war. … Our Southern people have many of the Northern wounded to care for. …
September 1861 [Account of a trip to Nashville] We got on comfortably to the river in Col. Walker’s hack, crossed the river, were soon seated in our comfortable train. Moved on quite pleasantly to Gap [?], waited a short time when the train which was to bear us from our home to the west came up. What a sorrowful sight I was called to witness as I entered the car. Our noble soldiers returning wounded and sick and maimed for life. My heart was sad indeed at the sight. … We traveled nicely but crowded until we reached the collision which had taken place that morning between a freight and gravel train. … About 2 o’clock on Thursday 5th of Sept., with him [her husband] who is dearer to me than all else, left Knoxville for Nashville. … We travelled over that long and dangerous road [railroad] between Chattanooga and Nashville [the C&N]. … After supper Richard went out into another car to smoke, staid so long I felt uneasy. I did not know what to do. I imagined many things and amongst others felt afraid that someone had knocked him the head but after a while he came and I was relieved. Took breakfast at Murfreesboro and arrived at Nashville about 7 o’clock and in a short time was surrounded by the loved friends of Nashville.
13 October 1861 On Wednesday 25th Sept, Sam [Samuel A. Fain] came home from camp sick. I felt so glad to have him at home. My heart would have been so distressed at the thought of a son sick in camp. He is now well for which I do trust and feel so thankful.
27 October 1861 This day week [a week ago] I was surrounded by the sight of home, husband, sons, friends. … On Tuesday morning Abram Gammon, Nick Fain, Sam Fain and J. K. P. Gammon left us for their Kentucky camp. I felt so sad at parting from them for ought we know it is the last look we may ever have on their loved faces.
10 November 1861 This morning finds heart , soul and body in a state of great excitement from the rumor of burnt bridges and strong apprehensions of a rebellious movement on the part of the Union desperados of East Tennessee. I fear at a late hour men of standing who have aided and abetted that feeling may find themselves as well as the rest of us involved in irretrievable ruin.
14 November 1861 Last Sabbath evening my beloved husband returned having been so strongly solicited by Mr. McFarland and others to come and see what could be furnished for the reconstruction of the burnt bridges from our timbers at the river. He went back on Monday and got to Knoxville at 9 o’clock p.m. When shall my home be home again, when will the loved be restored. On last Tuesday morning about 5 a.m. messengers from town came requiring sons Sam and Ike to go immediately and make preparation for a trip to railroad to succor troops stationed at Watauga Bridge. Before going a great distance they ascertained they had been fired upon whilst out on a scout from Mr. N. Taylor’s barn. Some were slightly wounded but no lives lost I understand. How deplorable is such a state of affairs.
Isaac “Ike” Anderson Fain (1844-1917) The Fains’ fourth son, Isaac “Ike” Anderson Fain was 17 when the Civil War began. Records are unclear as to when he enlisted in the Confederate Army. He joined his father’s regiment, the 63rd, with the rank of sergeant but was demoted to private in December 1862. He then served as an orderly for his father, but in June 1863 he was appointed forage master, a low-level position. He did not accompany the Sixty-Third to Virginia in spring 1864 and was removed from the regimental roll. Ike then joined a local cavalry unit and served near Rogersville for the remainder of the war.
Sabbath, 24 November 1861 Gloom Gloom impenetrable gloom hangs over me this morning. My son Ike left home this morning with gun strapped on his back and his provisions in a bag to go to Bays Mountain where it is said a number of our poor deluded and infatuated Union men have collected for resistance to the law and to work wickedly.
Eliza’s Diary Winter 1861
26 December 1861 Since listing the above, all things have been made to succumb to military rule. The rebellion has been suppressed and many of the members of it have been arrested. Some have paid the high price of life for life. Old Mr. Bird an old man of 60 years was one of the ringleaders … He was shot on a high spur of that mountain region … I have felt troubled when I thought of his death and feel upon the leading Union men of East Tennessee rests the blood of these poor deluded victims. Two more men by the name of Harmon [Jacob and Henry] have been hung in Knoxville; implicated in that atrocious and diabolical deed of bridge burning. … Buck [a slave ?] and Ike made a narrow escape. Ike told me that he never felt so frightened in his life with bullets flying by him and he could see no one. A merciful God preserved the life of my child.
John N. Fain, editor, Sanctified Trial: The Diary of Eliza Rhea Anderson Fain, a Confederate Woman in East Tennessee, Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 2004
28 July 1861 My Sabbaths are days now of such intense feeling and I cannot keep from asking questions concerning the well being of those who have left all in our Southern homes to go forth for what I feel is civil and religious liberty. This morning brother George got back from Knoxville having gone down on Wednesday to make some arrangements about their company. … on that day he travelled with some who were going back from Virginia who had been spectators of the deadly conflict this day week [a week ago today] [First Battle of Bull Run] ever memorable to one who was on that train with the remains of a darling son who had fallen to rise no more … I asked George if he thought his father seemed much distressed. He said he seemed so much elated at the success of our armies [in the First Battle of Bull Run—a Confederate victory] he did not seem to feel the death of his child much. I have always felt to the truly patriotic heart there is no cause where we could lose our sons which would carry with it an alleviation of sorrow so much as the thought of Liberty, Liberty. I feel glad that I am not where these scenes of excitement would be before my eyes; I feel I can hardly bear it when I am just to hear of it.
YOUNG DANIEL STOVER Daniel was born on 14 November 1826 in Elizabethton, Carter County, Northeast Tennessee, to William Ward Stover and Sarah Murray Drake. In 1852 Daniel bought five tracts of land from his father for $1, with the understanding that his parents will continue to live there for the rest of their lives. Daniel’s dollar also buys him the farmhouse, the barns, and other outbuildings on the land. Luckily, the property is adjacent to the Watauga River just outside the town of Elizabethton.
ISAAC AND MARY WARD LINCOLN Isaac Lincoln is born on 5 March 1750 in Berks County, Pennsylvania, son of John Lincoln and Rebecca Flowers, who migrated to the Watauga area of Northeast Tennessee in 1773 or 1774. Isaac is the great uncle of Abraham Lincoln—yes, the Lincoln who would become president—who was born on 12 February 1809. Isaac married Mary Ward in Carter County on 29 August 1780. They had only one child, a son, and he died.
Indeed the Lincolns welcomed two orphan children among their extended family into their home and raised them: William Ward Stover, son of Mary Ward Lincoln’s sister, and Phoebe Williams, daughter of Mordecai Williams [died 1848] and Elizabeth Stover [died 1851]. Isaac and Mary Lincoln raised William and Phoebe as their own children. Mary Ward Lincoln left the bulk of her estate to Daniel’s father William Ward Stover when she passed in 1834.
I did not expect to find members of the Lincoln family in Northeast Tennessee. It is a distant link, true. But if you think about Daniel’s father and Mary’s nephew, William Ward Stover, and his relationship with Isaac and Mary Ward Lincoln—which makes Daniel related to Mary by blood. Then think about how Daniel’s father-in-law, Andrew Johnson, became Abraham Lincoln’s running mate in 1864 and advanced to the presidency when Booth assassinated Lincoln a few months later—well, my head is spinning right now.
DANIEL TAKES A WIFE Daniel Stover meets Mary Johnson while she is studying to become a teacher. She is the daughter of Andrew Johnson of nearby Greeneville, who will eventually become president. Daniel and Mary marry on 27 April 1852, and they live on Daniel’s land in Carter County. They have three children, Andrew, Eliza, and Sarah. An article in the Watauga Democrat states, “Their home was the scene of many brilliant parties and many prominent people were entertained in its walls.”
UNDERMINING CONFEDERATE AUTHORITY Carter County native W.B. Carter comes up with a plan to hinder Confederate operations by burning four railroad bridges in Northeast Tennessee. He places great trust in Daniel Stover when he assigns him to destroy two of the four railroad bridges. Stover swears to keep the operation secret until the day set for burning the bridges, 8 November 1861. On that day, Stover selects about thirty men to be his assistants and explains their mission.
Stover tells his men that in addition to doing a great service for their country, they will receive a small payment from the Federal government. He assures them that they should not fear any repercussions against them by the enemy. USA General George H. Thomas and his army are waiting on the Tennessee/Kentucky border, ready to move in quickly and protect the bridge burners from Confederate retaliation.
Colonel Daniel Stover
The little town in Sullivan County where the ET&VA railroad bridge crosses the Holston River has had several name changes. It was called ‘Middletown’ when it was platted, but after the East Tennessee and Virginia [ET&VA] railroad was completed in the late 1850s, the town adopted the name ‘Union.’ That’s confusing because of everything else we call ‘Union.’ The residents took back the name ‘Union’ after the Civil War, but it became ‘Bluff City’ on 1 July 1887 and still has that name today. But I’ve decided to use ‘Zollicoffer’ as the town’s name because it was the most used during the war. It comes from CSA General Felix Zollicoffer, a native of Middle Tennessee who was killed at the Battle of Mill Springs on 19 January 1862. Yes, you heard me right, a town in Northeast Tennessee was named after a Confederate general. But this is Sullivan County; they had a strong Confederate following there. I know, the town wasn’t called Zollicoffer when the bridge was actually burned—just bear with me.
CARTER’S DEPOT BRIDGE Daniel Stover and his men mount their horses and begin the journey to Carter’s Depot, to destroy the bridge over the Watauga River there. Upon their arrival, they discover that a regiment of Confederate cavalry under the command of Capt. David McClellan is guarding the Watauga bridge. Stover quickly abandons that operation; he and his small band of Unionists would be no match for those well-trained soldiers on horseback.
ZOLLICOFFER BRIDGE The bridge burners leave immediately for the town of Zollicoffer, where the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad runs straight through the little village and crosses the Holston River. Only two guards are keeping watch at the Zollicoffer bridge that night, and they are quickly subdued. The men immediately work on setting fire to the bridge, and it is soon ablaze.
DEADLY BETRAYAL Now Daniel has to decide what to do with the guards. They beg pitifully for their lives and promise not to say anything about the men who burned the Zollicoffer bridge. A man named Jenkins is particularly vocal. Keen, a bridge burner, has been Jenkins’s neighbor for some time and does not believe the man would ever betray him. On his word, Jenkins’s life is spared. On his word, they spare Jenkins’s life. However, as soon as he is free, the man reports Keen and others he recognized to Confederate authorities.
I am giving you several different accounts of the burning of the bridge at Zollicoffer, which will give you a better understanding of these events. Nobody tells the whole truth, and even their version of the truth is filtered through their own life experiences during these traumatic events.
J.G. BURCHFIELD’S VERSION: Burning the Zollicoffer Bridge Although he is only 15 years old, Burchfield actively participates in burning the bridge across the Holston River at Zollicoffer. He wrote:
DANIEL ELLIS’S RENDITION: Burning the Zollicoffer Bridge This is Daniel Ellis’s version of burning the bridge—he calls the town Union. In this excerpt from his book, The Thrilling True Adventures of Daniel Ellis, he makes perhaps the most insightful statement about the bridge burnings. In this short passage, he mentions twicethat Federal troops would soon be arriving in Northeast Tennessee—emphasizing how much these men are relying on the Union Army to aid and protect them.
Daniel Ellis, The Thrilling True Adventures of Daniel Ellis: 1861~1865, (Independently published (November 5, 2016), 13-20
“as false as dicers oaths”* (See quotation above.) The most popular game among dice-players was liar’s dice. In this game, each player rolls the die, but only they can see what they’ve rolled. Then they lie about their roll so other players will guess incorrectly and the best liar wins.
9 NOVEMBER 1861: First bridge burner arrested S. H. Hendrix of Carter’s Depot, who actively participated in burning the Zollicoffer bridge, is the first man arrested, and the first to tell Keen and others that Jenkins has betrayed them. Hendrix writes this letter:
DOE RIVER COVE In the valleys of the mountains along the Doe River in Carter County there are fertile coves—a cove in the Appalachian mountains is defined as a small valley between two ridges that is closed at one or both ends. Six miles south of Elizabethton, the bridge burners encamp at Doe River Cove—now the town of Hampton. Unionist farmers in the neighborhood furnish the men with cattle, sheep, flour and cornmeal and feed for their horses.
This excerpt about Daniel Stover is from a biography of Eliza McCardle Johnson, his mother-in-law:
COLONEL DANVILLE LEADBETTER Colonel Danville Leadbetter arrives at Johnson City, Northeast Tennessee, with a large Confederate force and moves out on the Taylorsville road towards the Union camp. The Confederates have sent Leadbetter to arrest the bridge burners and rebuild the bridges. Constant rumors about the enemy circulate through Stover’s camp, and the men expect them to appear at any time.
16 NOVEMBER 1861 Realizing the hopelessness of taking on Leadbetter’s force, the bridge burners disband their little army and leave Doe River Cove on 16 November 1861. Many of these men are caught and sent to prison, where they endure all kinds of abuse. Most of Stover’s men hide in the mountains until Daniel Ellis feels it is safe enough to lead them across the mountains to Camp Dick Robinson in southeastern Kentucky, where many enlist in the Union Army. Still others remain in the mountains for almost two years—until September 1863—when General Ambrose Burnside marches his Federal army into Northeast Tennessee and takes Knoxville.
CSA Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin and Col. Danville Leadbetter correspond about the bridge burners: 19 NOVEMBER 1861 JOHNSON STATION, November 19, 1861. Honorable J. P. BENJAMIN: “Yesterday we dispersed the insurgents, 300 strong, at Doe River. Took thirty prisoners in the neighborhood; none very prominent. What shall be done with them! Are those not known as criminals to be released on their oath of allegiance! Those known to have been insurgents I recommend be sent to Richmond and kept there. Please telegraph to Jonesborough, Tenn.” D. LEADBETTER.
19 NOVEMBER 1861 RICHMOND, November 19, 1861. Colonel D. LEADBETTER Jonesborough, Tenn.: “Send all the prisoners known to be criminals or to have born arms against the Government to Nashville to be tried for high treason. Discharge the others on their taking oath of allegiance. I have ordered a regiment from North Carolina to report to you at Jonesborough.” J. P. BENJAMIN, Acting Secretary of War.
A month later, Col. Danville Leadbetter, commanding Confederate forces in the Northeast Tennessee area, reports to Adjutant Gen. Samuel Cooper in Richmond: “Capt. McClellan, of the Tennessee cavalry, stationed by me at Elizabethton, reports that Carter County is becoming very quiet, and that, with the aid of a company of infantry, he will enter Johnson County and disarm the people there. The execution of the bridge burners is producing the happiest effect. This, coupled with great kindness towards the inhabitants generally inclines them to quietude. Insurgents will continue for yet a while in the mountains, but I trust that we have secured the outward obedience of the people.”
LIFE AFTER THE BRIDGE BURNINGS On 27 February 1862 Edwin M. Stanton, Union Secretary of War, offers Daniel Stover a commission as a Colonel in the 4th East Tennessee Infantry USA for three years or the term of the war. The official certificate bears Stanton’s signature but states that the President of the United States appointed him. As part of his commission, the government authorizes Daniel to raise a regiment of volunteers from Tennessee. Many of the men who were with him during the previous months join his unit. Stover accepted the commission on December 3, 1862.
MAY 1863 In May 1863, Stover submitted a letter describing the progress in assembling a regiment of men. He concludes the letter by noting that since May 1862, more recruits have come into camps. The 4th is composed wholly of exiles from East Tennessee, who were brought out of the Confederate lines by officers and pilots sent in for that purpose. On May 29, 1863, Stover’s unit left Louisville and was mustered into service in June. They remained in upper East Tennessee until July when ordered to Nashville to be mustered out. Col. Stover saw no service in the field.
JULY 1863 Daniel’s service records show that he is frequently absent due to tuberculosis. The record states, “his lungs are very debilitated by frequent pneumonia, he is very dehydrated … and he is unfit to resume duty and won’t be for the next 30 days … he contracted a severe cold which affected very seriously his lungs …”
8 DECEMBER 1863 A letter written to Col. T.S. George in Nashville describes Daniel’s condition: “I desire to call your attention to the case of Colonel Daniel Stover of the 4th East Tennessee Infantry. He has been for several months seriously indisposed – at times confined to his bed – and unable to perform the duties incidental to field service. As you are aware, this Regiment was recently captured at McMinnville and the other officers are now engaged in its reorganization. I therefore respectfully ask that leave of absence may be extended to Col. Stover until he shall be restored to health as to be able to take the command of his Regiment.”
R. Knoffe, Surgeon with the 10th Tennessee Regiment, reports that Daniel suffers from tuberculosis or what was referred to at that time as consumption. Knoffe adds, “he will never be fit for any service.”
1 AUGUST 1864 Service Records for Daniel for the remainder of 1863 and into 1864 show similar reports of illness. On August 1, 1864 Daniel submitted his letter of resignation:
18 DECEMBER 1864 Colonel Daniel Stover dies in Nashville, Tennessee, on December 18, 1864. The army returns his body to Carter County, where his family buries him next to his parents. After the war ends, Daniel’s widow Mary Johnson Stover returns to their farm near Elizabethton and finds the buildings destroyed and the food reserves depleted. She and her three children live with her parents in Nashville.
“Bridge Burning: Names of Men Who Burned the Bridge at Zollicoffer, “History of the 13th Regiment, Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry, USA, Chapter VII, accessed 20 February 2021, tngenweb.org/greene/reghist-13/rh13-c07.htm
“Heros and Heroines of Carter and Johnson Counties in the Civil War,” History of the 13th Regiment, Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry, USA, Chapter XXVIII, accessed 20 February 2021, tngenweb.org/greene/reghist-13/rh13-c28.htm
South Carolina seceded in December 1860. During the months of January and February 1861, six more states secede: Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. Leaders in these states believe that, despite his promises, Abraham Lincoln will abolish slavery. After a long pause, four more states leave the Union in April and May 1861: Virginia, Arkansas, and North Carolina, with Tennessee being the last to secede on 8 June 1861. These eleven states form the Confederate States of America.
Secession Exploded By William Wiswell
This anti-Confederate satire is a vision of the Union defeat of the secessionist movement. A monster representing secession emerges from the water at left. He is hit by a charge from a mammoth cannon “Death to Traitors!” operated by Uncle Sam (right). The explosion sends several small demons, representing the secessionist states, hurling through the air. Prominent among them is South Carolina, in a coffin at upper right. Tennessee and Kentucky, two Southern states internally divided over the secession question, are represented by two-headed creatures. Virginia, though part of the Confederacy, is also shown divided–probably an acknowledgment of the Appalachian and eastern regions’ alignment with the Union. Among the demons is a small figure of Tennessee senator and 1860 presidential candidate John Bell, with a bell-shaped body. In the foreground is a large American flag on which Winfield Scott, commander of the Union forces, and a bald eagle rest.
7 JANUARY 1861: Governor calls for a secession convention
Tennessee Governor Isham Harris, a secessionist from West Tennessee, convenes a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly on 7 January 1861. Harris asks the lawmakers to approve a convention to consider the state’s position on secession. However, the legislators do not believe they have the authority to call a State Convention without a vote of the people. They call for a referendum in which all Tennessee voters will decide whether a secession convention should be held, setting the date for 9 February 1861.
JANUARY 1861: Parson Brownlow
Pro-Union newspapers accuse Governor Harris of treason. William G. Brownlow, editor of the Knoxville Whig, particularly despises Governor Harris and says so daily in the pages of his newspaper. As a minister in a previous life, Brownlow acquired the nickname ‘Parson.’ He became well known in the late 1830s and early 1840s as editor and publisher of the Knoxville Whig. He believes strongly in his principles and personally attacks his political opponents, sometimes to the point of bodily harm. Against slavery in decades past, during the Civil War, Brownlow returns to his anti-slavery views, going so far as to call for emancipation. He also staunchly opposes secession.
By 1861, the Knoxville Whig has 14,000 loyal subscribers, and some secessionists accuse Brownlow of being the root cause of the stubborn Unionist sentiment in East Tennessee. Knoxville Democrats try to counter Brownlow’s editorials by supporting the Knoxville Register, East Tennessee’s dominant newspaper. Radical secessionist Jacob Austin Sperry edits the Register, but he flees when USA General Ambrose Burnside takes possession of Knoxville in September 1863.
9 JANUARY 1861: Shall Tennessee submit?
In the House of Representatives yesterday, Mr. [William H.] Wisener of Bedford [County], presented a series of resolutions declaring against the policy of holding a State Convention, as proposed by Governor Harris, … We must confess that we were not prepared to expect such broad indications towards submission, from any member of the Tennessee Legislature. But for charity sake we take it for granted Mr. Wisener has not lately paid much attention to the political events of the day, and is especially ignorant as to what has been lately transpiring in Congress.
For we cannot see how any Southern man, who is at all familiar with the history of the times, can in his capacity as the Representative of a Southern constituency, in a Southern Legislature solemnly declare it inexpedient for the people of his State to hold a convention and determine whether they will resist or submit to the Abolition rule now about to be inaugurated [Abraham Lincoln]. … No event of the future can be put down as more certain than that Tennessee will resist … [Tennessee will resist the actions of the Federal government.]
~ Nashville Daily Gazette
20 JANUARY 1860: Is secession the answer?
The Rev. Dr. Robert J. Breckinridge writes an open letter to his relative—Vice President John C. Breckinridge—calling for moderation in resolving the differences between North and South. This is an excerpt:
24 JANUARY 1861: The rhetoric is heating up
The state of New York offersmen and money to the Federal Government “to be used in coercing certain sovereign States of the South into obedience to the Federal Government.” The Tennessee House responds by saying:
From a letter by W.W. Fergusson of Riddleton, Tennessee:
26 JANUARY 1861 We can never live in a Southern Confederacy and be made hewers of wood and drawers of water for a set of aristocrats, and over-bearing tyrants. We are candid in urging East Tennessee to withdraw from Middle and West Tennessee, if they shall be so reckless as to consent to go out of the Union. The people of East Tennessee are with us in this, and will demand it, sooner than be oppressed with direct taxes and forced loans. We have no interests in common with the Cotton States. We are a grain-growing and stock-raising people, and we can conduct a cheap Government … The vile and wicked leaders who have precipitated the revolution, will do none of the fighting, but will manage to hold civil and military offices, with large salaries, to pay for which, money will be wrung from the masses by a system of direct taxes. And these common people will themselves have to shoulder their knapsacks and muskets, and do the fighting. ~ Parson Brownlow, editor of the Knoxville Whig newspaper
Hi there, I’m Maggie MacLean, author of the Northeast Tennessee Civil War blog. I’m just getting started after months of research and trying to find the perfect theme, which is not easy for a history blog.
I’m not a historian, nor do I write like one. I am an avid reader and researcher of Civil War history since childhood. I have a more casual style of writing, and I will try to explain situations that are not always clear in the history books. I came to prefer a timeline format for this blog because it forces me to write concise entries without a lot of interpretation.
For the purposes of this blog, I will be writing about the 18 counties of Northeast Tennessee: Anderson, Blount, Campbell, Carter, Claiborne, Cocke, Grainger, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Jefferson, Johnson, Knox, Scott, Sevier, Sullivan, Union, and Washington.
If you see errors on this blog or have something to say, please leave a comment.
FYI, I have an autoimmune disease, which makes writing a perfect activity for me.
If you have even half as much fun reading this blog as I am having writing it, Google should send me lots of traffic.
The State of Tennessee comprises three Grand Divisions: West Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and East Tennessee. There are even further divisions within East Tennessee—Southeast Tennessee, Knox County, and Northeast Tennessee—demonstrating how strongly each subdivision is attached to either the Union or the Confederacy. With new markets provided by the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad—completed in 1858—Southeast Tennessee sells increased quantities of cash crops to the South and identifies more with the Confederacy. Knox County, once strongly Unionist, relates more with the Confederacy after Southern troops occupy Knoxville in July 1861. Northeast Tennessee remains primarily Unionist from the entrance of the railroad in 1858 until the close of the Civil War in 1865.
1 MARCH 1860: A Unionist speaks out
More than nine months before South Carolina secedes from the Union, a U.S. congressman speaks his mind at a political convention. William Brickly Stokes is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from DeKalb County, Tennessee (4 March 1859—4 March 1861). On 1 March 1860, Stokes expresses his opinion of secession at the Opposition Party’s State Convention:
JUNE—DECEMBER 1860: Anti-secession campaign
Leaders in East Tennessee begin an anti-secession campaign and spend much of the latter part of 1860 holding meetings and speaking at rallies in counties throughout the region. Men such as Senator Andrew Johnson, Congressman Emerson Etheridge, Congressman Thomas A.R. Nelson, newspaper editor Parson Brownlow, and Horace Maynard, one of the few Southern congressmen to maintain his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives during the Civil War. This strong Unionist leadership early in the secession crisis is essential in keeping East Tennesseans loyal to the Union.
AUTUMN 1860: Governor Harris is working behind the scenes
During the presidential campaign of 1860,Tennessee Governor Isham Harris, a secessionist from West Tennessee, warns that the state must be ready to consider secession if the “reckless fanatics of the north” should gain control of the federal government. After Abraham Lincoln is elected President of the United States on 6 November 1860, Harris begins his own campaign to sever Tennessee’s ties with the United States. Southern Democrats, convinced that Lincoln would abolish slavery, begin calling for secession.
20 DECEMBER 1860: Why can’t everyone live free?
When Abraham Lincoln, a known opponent of slavery, is elected president in November 1860, the South Carolina legislature call a state convention. On 20 December 1860 the delegates vote 169 to 0 to leave the United States of America. This is the culmination of decades of debate between the North and the South about slavery and extending slavery into new Federal territories.
25 DECEMBER 1860: Is the Union lost?
During the secession crisis in Tennessee, most people in the state are not much interested in leaving the Union. However, as secession fever reaches the Unionist counties in Northeast Tennessee, more and more people sense impending conflict. As far away as the state capital of Nashville, a lawyer writes on Christmas Day 1860: